Dental surgeries have reported backlogs of thousands of patients, while people desperate to receive treatment have been pressured to pay extra to secure an appointment, or have been forced to seek care at pricey private clinics, Healthwatch England, a watchdog group, has found.
A review of 1,375 healthcare experiences between January and March of this year revealed some patients were told they would have to wait up to three years to see an NHS dentist, while those who could afford private care were able to secure an appointment within a week.
Over a quarter of respondents told the watchdog they either struggle to pay for dental care or avoid it altogether because of the costs involved. Nearly a third (30%) of people said they felt pressured into forking over private fees to secure an appointment, while 39% reported that they had been charged extra to use NHS dental services.
The survey also included a number of harrowing personal testimonies and stories. For example, in response to Covid-19 occupancy limits and sanitary measures, some dentists asked their patients to “wait outside in bitterly cold weather” and even prevented people from using the toilets due to “safety concerns.”
The report claims that when dental practices couldn’t provide appointments, they advised people to take painkillers or buy filling kits and treat themselves. People said the DIY treatments were not effective and that they ended up spending more money on replacement kits.
Others who suffered from serious issues such as broken teeth said they were only offered antibiotics and in some cases were advised to take painkillers to provide temporary relief. In one case, a person said they had lost a filling and that the entire tooth had later broken off, creating difficulties when eating. The person said that their dental practice is only open for “serious” cases, but sends out emails encouraging patients to pay for private treatments.
While some said they have yet to experience issues with securing dentist appointments, numerous Twitter users said they could relate to the report’s shocking testimonials.
One person said they have three cracked teeth that need to be removed, but that getting an appointment with an NHS dentist was like “trying to find a golden egg.” They claimed that they had been hunting for a dentist for two years.
Others shared similar stories. One social media user revealed that they were compelled to turn to a private clinic.
“Even a broken tooth isn’t deemed an emergency by my normal dentist,” they explained.
Another person said they still had a broken tooth from the first lockdown that needed fixing.
It appears that the dental crisis has been getting worse over the past several months. In a survey from February, Healthwatch England said people were reporting that they were being asked to wait up to two years to receive dental work. In one testimonial, a patient was in so much pain he decided to extract his own teeth. The watchdog reported at the time that even back in February, people were being asked to pay private fees if they wanted to secure an appointment.
The backlog in treatments has been felt across the NHS. In April it was revealed that a record-high 4.7 million people were on waiting lists for routine operations and procedures in England after hospitals diverted resources to fighting Covid-19.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman told The Guardian: “We are committed to supporting the dental sector throughout this unprecedented pandemic so everyone across the country can access affordable, high-quality dental care."
“We continue to support the most vulnerable by providing exemptions from dental charges for certain groups – nearly half of all dental treatments, over 17 million, were provided free of charge in 2019-20.”